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Are Red-Eared Sliders Invasive?

Red eared sliders are considered to be among the most invasive species. They are even included in the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group’s 100 Worst Invasives List.

Red-eared sliders are considered to be invasive to regions within Europe, Asia, Africa, and  Australia.  They are found in all but one continent – Antarctica.

Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are popular turtles. These moderately sized turtles are commonly kept as pets. They are known as the red-eared slider because of the red patch on their ears.

Here are some regions across the world where they are considered invasive – Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), Portugal, France, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Mariana Islands, Bahrain, South Africa, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Australia.

Within the United States, the species is invasive in several states including Hawaii, California, Arizona, Arizona, Alaska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Oregon to name a few. The map below shows the places across the United States where they have been introduced.


What Is The Red-Eared Slider?

Group of red eared sliders on a bank basking
Group of red eared sliders on a bank basking

The red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)  is a turtle that is originally endemic to the south-central United States. Here they are endemic to Colorado to Florida and Virginia.

Within their geographic range, they inhabit warm freshwater bodies such as slow-flowing rivers, streams, creeks, swamps, lakes, and ponds. The species prefer still/calm water bodies. Slow-moving water allows them to easily leave the water to bask.

The species is hardy and can thrive in a wide variety of habitats and locations. The turtle is actually a subspecies of the pond slider  (Trachemys scripta).

These species include two other turtles and these are the Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii) and the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta). These two other subspecies aren’t considered to be invasive as they are not as popular as the red-eared slider in the pet trade.

The red-eared slider is easily identifiable by the red stripes on their ears. Their carapace is olive green to dark brown. The plastron (bottom shell) is light yellow with dark markings.

These markings are mirrored on either side of the plastron. The limbs, neck, head, and all are olive green with yellow stripes. Juveniles are of a similar coloration although they are more vibrantly colored.

The species reach an adult length of 6 to 12 inches and generally live for 20 to 30 years. Similar to other emydids, males are significantly smaller than females. While males reach a mature length of 5 to 9 inches (13 to 23 cm), females reach a mature length of 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm).

As juveniles, males and females are generally of the same length. Upon reaching maturity at age 2 to 5 years, males stop increasing in size while females continue to increase in size until they are 5 to 8 years.

In the wild, they aren’t picky eaters. They eat whatever food they have available as long as it is good for their growth. Adults are predominantly herbivorous and feed on both aquatic and terrestrial vegetation.

Juveniles and hatchlings are omnivorous and eat a mix of animal material and plants. They must eat animal material in large quantities as they lack the gut microflora needed to properly and efficiently digest plants as adults do.

Animal material they eat includes small reptiles, small amphibians such as tadpoles, small fish, crawfish, insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders, slugs, snails, and carrion.

Plant materials they are known to eat include algae, stems, leaves, seeds, and flowers.

What to do if you find a wild red-eared slider?

The correct actions to take depend on your locality and the laws available. If you are unsure of what to do, leave the turtle alone. You can report observations to the necessary organization for tracking purposes.

In California, you need a  sportfishing license to take a wild red-eared slider from its habitat. However, once you take the red-eared slider home, you cannot release the slider back into the wild as that is illegal. Also, you cannot release a pet red-eared slider into any aquatic habitat within the state.

In California, you can report observations to CDFW Invasive Species Program through email or through a phone call.

Invasive Species

Global distribution as of 2009


According to available statistics over 52 million individual sliders were exported out of the United States from 1989 to 1997. These large numbers are more than enough to allow the turtles to develop feral populations all over the world. Both the international and domestic pet trade has introduced the species to counties all over the world.

These sliders make it into the wild when they are released by pet owners or escape from poorly constructed habitats when housed outdoors. The slider can burrow and climb quite well.  The sales on the pet market have reduced as the sale of the species has been banned or restricted in many places across the world.

As hatchlings and juveniles, these turtles are tiny and cute. With time, they grow big. Some individuals can reach lengths of 14 inches. This is over a foot in length. At this size, they can weigh as much as 3200 grams.

As adults, the species need a massive enclosure and a lot of care. As many pet owners are unable to care for the turtle, they are released into the world.

This reptile is an adaptable species and can thrive in a wide variety of environments. They are invasive to every continent apart from Antarctica.

Harmful Impact

The red-eared slider is a hardy turtle and extremely adaptable when it comes to foraging for food and other resources, they are efficient. As successful as they are, they can easily compete with other turtle species and animals for habitat and food.

In addition to competing for food, nesting sites, and habitat, they also introduce parasites to the new ecosystems they invade. They also transmit diseases such as ranavirus to the reptile species native to the geographic ranges they invade.

For instance, in the Pacific states of the U.S. such as California, the species compete with other native turtles such as western pond turtles for food, basking sites, and nesting sites.

Within the Great Lakes ecosystem, the red-eared slider competes with the Blanding’s turtle, the northern map turtle, and the painted turtle. The Blanding’s turtle is a species of special concern within Michigan.

Within Canada, they have been introduced to ecosystems such as the wetlands of British Columbia where they can be found in the Southern Interior, the South Coast (in Lower Mainland and Metro Vancouver), and Vancouver Island (from Courtenay to Victoria).

Within Canada, they are a threat to the western painted turtle. The slider transmits harmful respiratory diseases to the western-painted turtle. They have also been recorded in southern Ontario and southern Québec.

In India, the species threatens the natural waters of northeast India. The water bodies of the Northeast India geographic region house about 21 of 28 vulnerable freshwater turtles. The red-eared slider has been found in the Ugratara Devalaya temple pond and the Deepor Beel wildlife sanctuary.

In Bermuda, the species have been found in the Pembroke canal. The species have also been recorded on golf courses. Many hundreds can be found in ponds all over Bermuda where they feed on the local population of Mosquitofish (Gambusia) and  Killifish.

These two fishes keep the mosquito population in check. The Killifish is also an endangered species within Bermuda. The species also compete with Bermuda’s only native freshwater turtle species – diamondback terrapin.

In Europe, the importation and sale of red-eared sliders are banned by the European Union.

In Australia, the species can be found in Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

They threaten the native freshwater turtles as they are more aggressive, produce more offspring, grow bigger, and reach maturity quicker. They compete with native turtle species for food and basking and nesting sites. They often outcompete native turtle species.  They also feed on rare frogs and have a negative impact on aquatic plants and animals.

In Sydney, the red-eared slider has been known to transmit a malaria-like parasite to wild turtle populations in the Lane Cove River.

In New South Wales, they inhabit Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers, Wolli Creek Reserve, Yeramba Lagoon, and Georges River Catchment.

In the Australian Capital Territory, they inhabit dams near Murrumbidgee River.

In Victoria, they inhabit Blackburn Lake Sanctuary, Ruffey Lake Park, and Elsternwick Park – all in Melbourne.

In Western Australia, a single individual has each been observed in Hyde Park and Tomato Lake in Perth. 

Because of the harmful impact of the turtle, you should never release a pet red-eared turtle into the wild. They are almost impossible to remove once in the wild.  If you do not want your pet slider anymore you should find a new home for it or humanely euthanize it.

It is essential to consider your commitment level before acquiring a pet turtle. Turtles are long-lived animals. Sliders for instance can easily live to 30 years in captivity. If you are unsure of whether or not you can take care of the turtle for decades to come, then it is best to get one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the red-eared slider most invasive?

The red-eared slider is most invasive in Australia, Bermuda, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, Within the United States, the red-eared slider can be found in every state including Hawaii even though it is thousands of miles away. It is invasive throughout the entire country.  

What is the most invasive turtle?

The red-eared slider is considered the most invasive turtle in the world. It is the only turtle included in the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group’s 100 Worst Invasives List. This invasive turtle can be found on every continent apart from Antarctica. This turtle is native only to south-central North America. 

Can you release red-eared sliders into the wild?

You should not release the red-eared slider into the wild. The species are highly adaptable and can outcompete most native freshwater turtles around the world. They also spread diseases and parasites to native species. They have negatively impacted populations of native species including fish species such as Killifish, turtle species as such the western painted turtle, and even aquatic plant species. 

Are red-eared sliders bad?

Red-eared sliders aren’t bad animals. They make excellent pets as they are relatively easy to care for and are more interactive than other turtles. They are also highly adaptable. These characteristics can make them harmful to the foreign environment. As such, they shouldn’t be released into the wild. 

Are red-eared sliders aggressive?

Red-eared sliders are not aggressive toward humans. They are generally calm and hardly bite. They can be aggressive towards other turtles. As invasive species, they can outcompete native turtles for food, basking sites, and nesting sites.


The red-eared slider is one of the most invasive species in the world. It is even included in the 100 Worst Invasives List. A list maintained by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

What makes the red-eared slider invasive? They are adaptable, grow quickly, and are generally larger than native freshwater turtles within the environments that invade. Their adaptability allows them to outcompete other species for food, nesting sites, and basking sites.

They were introduced to other geographic regions through the international and domestic pet trade. They have found their way to all the continents of the world except for Antarctica.

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